Do crunches help you lose belly fat for real? The fitness community is divided on this. There's one camp that swears by it and another that says it's a waste of time. So, who's right?
A couple of years ago, I was also trying to find the answer to this exact question. I spoke to fitness coaches, pro bodybuilders, nutritionists and even read scientific studies. And what I found was that, unfortunately, there is no one definitive answer to this question.
The truth is, the number of crunches you need to do to lose belly fat depends on a lot of different factors – like your age, sex, genetics, diet, body composition and activity level.
That being said, I do have a fairly good idea of how many crunches you need to do to lose belly fat. But before we dive into the details, let's answer one basic question.
Do Crunches Help in Losing Belly Fat?
Yes, they do. But not in the way that most people expect it to. You see, a lot of people feel that working the midsection, burns fat from that section only.
Unfortunately, that's not how fat loss works. For fat loss, you need to create a caloric deficit. This can be done by burning more calories than you consume, or by eating fewer calories than you burn.
And when you do that, your body starts burning fat – regardless of where it is stored on the body.
So where do crunches come into the picture? Crunches help with muscle hypertrophy and abdominal muscle visibility. Some people have the worst fat distribution genetics in the world.
Even if they drop to sub-15% body fat, the abs remain hidden under a tiny layer of belly fat. That's where crunches shine. They can help your ab muscles 'pop' as they call it. Also, they can contribute towards creating that calorific deficit, if you do them with a fair bit of intensity.
Now that we've cleared that up, let's take a look at how many crunches you need to do to lose belly fat.
How Many Crunches You Should Do a Day to Lose Belly Fat?
That depends on your starting point as well as some of the factors that we mentioned above. How much body fat are you carrying? Have you lifted weights in the past? Do you have a decent amount of muscle under the fat?
What's your age? Are you a male athlete or a female fitness buff? Do you have a sedentary lifestyle or an active one?
Your response to the above questions gives us a good idea of how many crunches you should do.
But to make it simple, here's a general starting point:
- For Men - If you are a man in your mid-20s who works out regularly and has decent muscle to fat ratio, then I'd say doing 100-200 crunches a day will do the trick.
- For Women - If you are a woman in your early-20s who hits the gym like clockwork and has a decent muscle to fat ratio, then doing 150-250 crunches a day will do the trick.
If you're not in either of these categories, then start with 50-75 crunches per day and work your way up.
Remember, these are just general guidelines. Do what works best for you and track your progress. If you're not seeing results, then tweak the number of crunches that you're doing until you find the sweet spot. Or you can try other exercises like power jacks and mummy kicks alongside crunches and see the results.
Are Crunches Good for Losing Belly Fat?
As we said, there are different ways in which crunches can contribute towards belly fat loss and improving aesthetics. Here's a closer look.
Do Crunches as Part of An HIIT Routine
HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training is more effective for fat loss than conventional cardiovascular training, called LISS or Low Intensity Steady State Cardio.
Crunches, or many variations of them can be incorporated into an HIIT routine. The key is to do the routine with max intensity for a short burst of time. Then take a smaller break and then repeat.
For instance, do 30 burpees with mountain climbers, followed by a 10 second break and then repeat them. Do this 5 times and you will end up doing 150 mountain climbers in about 3-4 minutes. That's a great calorie burner that will tone your entire core region.
Another great exercise you can add to the mix is jumping jacks, I like doing 100 jumping jacks a day, it's fun and easy to do and great for losing weight.
Doing Crunches for Muscle Development
The other option is to separate the cardiovascular routine from the crunches. In this scenario, you will do crunches solely for the purpose of muscle hypertrophy and toning.
Aim to do 3-4 sets of 25-50 repetitions. This will help you progress towards achieving that six pack or eight pack, as the case may be.
How Many Crunches, Reps and Sets a Male Should Do to Lose Belly Fat?
Most men in their mid-20s, with decent muscle to fat ratio, should aim for 100-200 crunches per day.
There's no need to do these in one set. You will in all probability end up exhausted and quit midway. You can divide these into sets of 4-5, or whatever works best for you. I have divided my crunches into 4 sets, whenever I followed a crunch challenge.
For men with a sedentary lifestyle, who are in their late 30s and early 40s, 180-360 crunches should do the job. Do consider your age, fitness level and recovery rate before you go hard.
It's completely okay to start with much smaller numbers and work your way up to 180.
How Many Crunches Reps and Sets a Female Should Do to Lose Belly Fat?
Women generally tend to carry more fat around their hips than belly. This makes it easier for them to lose belly fat. However, if you have bad belly fat genetics and tend to store a lot of fat around your abdomen, you might have your task cut out.
Women in their early-20s and with a steady workout schedule and healthy amount of muscle should aim for 150-250 crunches per day. This will help you lay the foundation for a strong core, and help in creating lean muscle mass, which also helps in burning off excess body fat.
Again, you can divide these into as many sets as you like. Do them in the am or pm. There are no rules set in stone.
Women in their late 20s and early 30s, with a sedentary lifestyle should aim for 100-200 crunches per day to start with. If your muscle to fat ratio is not what you would want it to be, then start smaller and work your way up. There's no need to overdo it on the first day.
Remember, these are just general guidelines. What works for one person might not work for another. Track your progress and find the sweet spot where you're seeing results.
How to Do Crunches to Lose Belly Fat
There's no magic crunch variation that burns more belly fat than the rest. The rules don’t change. If you are using crunches for fat loss, do them with intensity so that you are almost breathless by the time you are done with a set.
Also, monitor your heart rate throughout the exercise. If you feel that you are pushing too far, pause and restart after you feel better.
If you are using them for muscle development, which also contributes to fat loss by the way, there's no need to focus on the speed and intensity. Instead, you can go for a controlled crunch, with a 3-4 second hold at the top. This will put more stress on the abdominal muscles.
Also, try to incorporate different variations so that you can target different muscle groups. For instance, try twisting crunches to target the internal and external oblique muscles, which are difficult to develop with traditional crunches alone.
Here's a video that explains how crunches can help with belly fat, followed by step-by-step instructions on doing the basic abdominal crunch.
- Step 1 - Lie flat on your back, with your hands under the small of your neck, to support the spine. The knees should be bent at a 45-degree angle.
- Step 2 - Inhale deeply as you lift both shoulders off the ground simultaneously towards your head.
- Step 3 - Raise your torso until your upper back is off the ground and your shoulder blades are close to your ribcage. Pause for a breath at the top position.
- Step 4 - Exhale as you slowly return to the starting position.
Try to do this without tensing your neck. If you are new to crunches, aim for 10 reps, 3 sets with 30 seconds of rest in between each set. Increase the number of reps as you go on.
Pro Tips on Crunches to Lose Belly Fat Faster
Here are some tips that will help you perform crunches safely, and maximize the effectiveness, with a fat loss goal in mind.
- Pro Tip #1 - Maintain good form throughout the crunch. Keep your chin parallel to the ground and don't let it poke forward. This will help protect the neck and spine. Don't use momentum to lift or while exhaling as you return to the starting position. If you find that your lower back is arching off the ground instead of lifting with your upper back, then you need to work on strengthening your core muscles.
- Pro Tip #2 - Keep the reps in the 15-25 range per set. If you can do more than that it is likely that you are making this exercise too easy for yourself and not working hard enough.
- Pro Tip #3 - Focus on intensity. Make sure you are breathing hard by the time you finish a set. This means that you are revving up your heart rate enough to increase the post exercise calorie burn.
- Pro Tip #4 - Vary the exercises to work different muscles. This will help with overall development and also reduce boredom. I personally recommend Russian Twists, Bicycles, Planks, Burpees and Heels to the heaven.
Diet Plan to Follow to Reduce Belly Fat
Your diet is the oft-overlooked, missing piece of the fat-loss puzzle. While crunches are definitely a key player in the fight against belly fat, what you eat, makes up the majority of the battle.
There's no one-size-fits-all diet plan that magically reduces belly fat, but there are some general principles that will help you achieve your goals.
Cut out The Junk
The great Jack Lalanne once said that 'If it tastes good, spit it out'. That sums up the average American diet for you. Making dramatic changes is tough as nails though. Nor is it sustainable. So, focus on making small changes that can make a significant difference over time.
Cut our sugar, processed food and trans-fat first.
Eat Protein and Fiber-Rich Foods
These are the two nutrients that help keep you feeling full and satisfied after meals. They also help to regulate blood sugar levels, which can prevent cravings for unhealthy snacks later on in the day.
Think lean proteins and produce.
Don't Neglect the Fat
Fat doesn't make you fat. Calories do. Fat is one of the most important macronutrients that you need for optimal health. Don't neglect it completely. Just make sure that what you get is 'healthy' fat, like the ones found in nuts and seeds, or extra virgin olive oil.
What Has Worked for Me
My body fat distribution genetics are so bad that even when I'm at my thinnest, I still have a pooch. That's why I've had to experiment with different methods and techniques to find what works for me. What works for you might be completely different.
That being said, the following is what has worked best for me so far:
- Cutting out processed foods, sugar and alcohol has helped me shed belly fat faster. I used to drink insane amounts of beer. But now it's my treat every once in a while.
- Switching from sugary breakfast cereals to oatmeal with fruit for breakfast has helped me gain lean muscle mass instead of fat.
- Eating more often has helped me shed fat faster. I used to eat once a day. Now I eat 3-4 times a day with healthy snacks in between.
- Consistency with exercise has helped me slim down. I'm not saying that crunches alone will make you lose all your belly fat, but they do play a key role in getting rid of it.
- Do not neglect your cardio. Cardio helps burn calories and increases your heart rate, both of which help you lose fat.
- Sleep is vital for muscle recovery. Get at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep and your health, immunity, mood, recovery, everything changes. It also affects your metabolism by the way. So, if you sleep poorly, try to fix that.
FAQ About Doing Crunches to Reduce Belly Fat
All said and done, I know some of you probably have a few lingering questions; let's go ahead and look at some of them.
Q. Will 100 crunches a day do anything?
A. They will do a lot. Firstly, when you crunch your abs, the muscles grow. This is good for burning fat, because a bigger muscle can burn more calories than a smaller one. Secondly, if you do 100 crunches every day, then over time you will get better at doing them. So, there's a chance that eventually you will be able to do more reps, weight or time under tension. This is good for fat burning because you are improving your ab strength.
Q. Are crunches good for losing belly fat?
A. As we said, crunches do have a role to play in belly fat loss. It may not be the be-all, end-all of belly fat loss though. There are more factors involved, like your calorie intake, your diet and your sleep.
Q. Will 30 crunches a day make a difference?
A. They are certainly better than not doing any. However, your goal should be to slowly increase the number of crunches you do each day. Do 30 a day for a week, then 40 the next week and 50 the third week. Keep going until you reach 100, or as many as your body can handle.
Q. What Exercise Burns the Most Belly Fat?
A. Any HIIT routine will burn belly fat faster than any other type of exercise. But again, it's not the only thing you need to do. You also need to watch your diet and get enough sleep. At the end of the day, fat loss is a process that depends on multiple variables. Exercise is only one of them.
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